10:15 AM CDT on Thursday, May 21, 2009
By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning Newsltaitte@dallasnews.com
Nobody finds it odd when a violinist or pianist is still playing a favorite concerto at the end of a 40-year career. So why be surprised that Topol is still playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof?
The Israeli actor had racked up a number of stage performances even before he made the 1971 movie. Now the total is around 2,500. In what is billed as his final tour, he arrived in Dallas for a one-week run at the Dallas Summer Musicals on Monday.
The performer still has what the role requires. That sonorous bass-baritone peals magnificently through the low notes. The stately, if world-weary, bearing and the soulful countenance, blazing eyes clearly visible in the back rows of the huge theater, give Topol, 73, a patriarchal aura. He could as easily be playing Moses or Rasputin – if it weren’t for all the droll bits of low humor he tosses off so nonchalantly.
It must be said that spontaneity is not a factor here. Every mournful growl at a bit of bad news, every joyful roll of the eyes, appears calculated and polished to the nth degree. Naturalism also goes out the window in favor of this delicately calculated theatrical flair.
Many old-fashioned masters of comic shtick destroy their material by sending it up. Not Topol. No shred of cynicism or self-indulgence gets in the way of Fiddler’s emotional journey. Before empty-nest syndrome had a name, this great musical explored the agonies of letting go – and the star plays them for all they are worth.
The current tour has selling points beyond its leading man. Susan Cella as Golde and Mary Stout as Yente are also masters of the broad comic style. Among the lovely daughters, Jamie Davis’ Hodel stands out for her soaring voice. Steve Gilliam’s storybook set invests the village of Anatevka with a quaint charm.
Best of all, director-choreographer Sammy Dallas Bayes has reproduced Jerome Robbins’ exuberant first-act dances with fiery precision. An important secret of Fiddler’s success is the sheer animal energy that drives these sequences. They keep this tale of loss and aging young and vital.
As young and vital as its septuagenarian star.